Monday, April 27, 2009
In the wake of his destruction of Oscar De La Hoya in December, Manny Pacquiao faces Ricky Hatton this Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in what is the biggest fight of 2009 thus far. By defeating 'the Golden Boy' the way he did - and hastening De La Hoya’s retirement from the ring - Pacquiao's profile grew exponentially across the globe. No longer just a Filipino icon, he is now among the best known athletes in the world.
His stock has never been higher and the adulation he receives is at an unfathomably high level. So can he possibly have the mental focus needed to defeat Hatton?
"My motivation of this fight," explained Pacquiao to Maxboxing last Thursday afternoon after one of his last sparring sessions at the Wild Card Boxing Club, "is that I want to prove to everybody that not only Mexican fighters I can beat, but I can also beat different fighters. Especially this fight, I'm fighting an English boxer. This is my first time fighting an English fighter. I have to focus to do everything in the ring."
Nobody has ever accused Pacquiao of discriminatory practices as a prizefighter. He'll beat up anyone that is represented in the United Nations, no matter what color, creed or religion. Regardless, toppling Hatton would be a sizable notch on his belt. With a record of 45-1 (32 knockouts), 'the Hit Man' has never lost as a jr. welterweight, and is the recognized champion of the division.
More importantly, this version of Hatton is a far steeper hurdle to climb than the faded De La Hoya he faced in December, a fact which has been drilled into him by his trainer Freddie Roach.
“I told him this is actually a tougher fight. This guy's younger, more vibrant, he has more energy. He has a lot of heart, he'll come to fight. I don't think his ability is that great to be honest with you," he says bluntly. "I've been studying tapes of him, I think he's a creation of Frank Warren. But he has some good wins though, and he's been champion at 140 for a long time. I know he's never been beaten at 140, but Manny hasn't either."
Of course, 'the Pac Man' has never fought at jr. welterweight. But Pacquiao, himself, says he expects a much more difficult outing this Saturday night.
"Absolutely," said the pride of General Santos City, "I'm expecting Ricky Hatton on that night, May 2nd, he's going to be in 100-percent condition. He's really prepared on this fight. He wants to win too. He's hoping for a victory, so both of us are looking for victory that night. May the best man win."
For the second consecutive contest, Hatton is working under the tutelage of Floyd Mayweather Sr., who is on the opposite end of the spectrum (in more ways than one) in comparison to his former trainer, Billy Graham.
"I don't think it's going to be a changed Ricky Hatton. I think what I've seen in his last fight against Malignaggi, that style, he'll use in that fight," said Pacquiao, referencing Hatton's 11th round stoppage of Malignaggi back in November. "I'm expecting whatever he wants, especially fighting inside, coming forward, fighting toe-to-toe. I know it's going to be a hard fight for me. But I really prepared for this fight."
In other words, he's expecting Hatton to be Hatton. As Cus D'amto once famously uttered: square pegs don't die round. But no matter what happens this upcoming weekend, most likely anything Pacquiao does from here on out will pale in comparison to the thrashing he gave 'the Golden Boy'. And it's not that it's his biggest achievement; you could argue that his victories over the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera are more significant. But this victory seemed to transcend boxing.
"Well, it's not comparable to the other fights because Oscar is a 10-time world champion, he's a boxing legend. We know Oscar, everybody knows Oscar, he's a great fighter," said Pacquiao, who stopped De La Hoya after eight one-sided innings. "And I'm the one who beat Oscar and I'm the one who sent him to retirement. So you cannot compare it to the other fights."
Pacquiao was thought to be simply too small to defeat the much bigger De La Hoya. It was supposed to be a physical mismatch. And that's exactly what it turned out to be.
"We never thought we'd beat Oscar that easy," admitted Pacquiao, who weighed in at 142-pounds for that welterweight contest. "But it's part of our plan to move like that."
Pacquiao-De La Hoya made David vs. Goliath look like the 'Thrilla in Manila.' Not only did he prove to be elusive in the ring with his darting movement, but his left hand repeatedly hit the mark time and time again, almost at will. The difference between the two combatants was visible from the very onset. "After the second round, I already thought that I can't believe I'm going to beat Oscar like this," said Pacquiao. There have been birthday piñatas in East LA who were not clubbed as many times as De La Hoya was on that fateful night.
And even more surprisingly, from the calves up, Pacquiao was the much stronger, physically imposing fighter.
"On that fight, I felt strong and 100-percent condition, mentally, spiritually and physically, and that's why there was no doubt in my mind to win that night," he says.
Now, he moves on to the last stage of what has not just been a Hall-of-Fame career, but possibly a legendary one. But he will need a few more significant and historic victories. Toppling Hatton would certainly qualify as both. He swears he is every bit as hungry and focused as he was for De La Hoya.
"Yeah, I'm always excited every fight, especially this fight against Ricky Hatton," Pacquiao claims. "Every fight, I don't want to disappoint people in my performance. I want them to be satisfied on my performance. Especially the Filipino people."
Showtime had quite the 1-2 punch this weekend with a pair of very entertaining championship contests that saw Cory Spinks edge upstart Deandre Latimore for the IBF jr. middleweight title and then on Saturday night Carl Froch overtook Jermain Taylor in the very late stages in defense of his WBC super middleweight title.
Some thoughts on the weekend...
- I think I may have to retire my 'Spinks Stynx' moniker. Like many other slick fighters of the past who have logged a lot of miles on the odometer who become more entertaining later in their careers as they lose their ability to move around the ring so effortlessly, Spinks is now a guy forced to sit down a bit in the pocket and let his hands go a bit more. And because of that, his bouts with Verno Phillips and Latimore made for pretty good TV. He may be more vulnerable than ever, but fights now are much more bearable to witness.
As for Latimore, it seemed like scoring that early knockdown of Spinks worked against him as he ignored the instructions of his trainer Kenny Adams to work downstairs and he expended a lot of energy missing punches aimed at Spinks head in the middle rounds. But he's just 23 and he comes with an entertaining style. He could become a jr. middleweight fixture with more seasoning.
- Certain trainers and fighters are meant to be together. And I think that is the case with Kevin Cunningham and Spinks. Cunningham just knows what buttons to push with Spinks and when to go to the whip. In my opinion, without Cunningham in his corner for this latest fight, Spinks fades down the stretch the way he did against Phillips last year, when the duo was estranged.
- I don't know about you, but I actually thought that by the 12th round of their bout that Froch had caught up to Taylor in the scoring. As usual, Taylor started off quickly and built a sizable lead on the strength of a third-round knockdown. But Taylor's deficiencies showed up once again. While Froch was steady and made adjustments as the night went on, Taylor hit the wall. Not necessarily physically, but from a technical and strategic standpoint. Before he ran out of gas, he ran out of ideas.
Taylor has always had a superior physical skill set, but that has never fully translated to the canvas. He has many of the measurables you look for, but unfortunately, not enough of the intangibles. His balance and footwork have never been ironed out, which means that outside of his hard jab, he has never had a complete offensive arsenal. His overall athleticism was able to carry him a long way in this sport, but as his technical development stagnated, so did his ability to thrive at the world-class level.
ABS OF STEEL
Hatton is one of the best body-punchers in the sport and there's no doubt that he will try to go downstairs on Pacquiao on Saturday night. That's who he is, that's what he does. It will be interesting to see just how much damage he can do to Pacquiao's body. In something I've never seen from any other fighter, Pacquiao, during numerous sparring sessions, will lay on the ropes, raise his arms all the way near his head (thus exposing his ribcage) and allow his sparring partners to bang away at will.
With no discernable effect.
In fact, on Thursday afternoon, he would playfully taunt one sparring partner by yelling out," Massage, massage, massage!!!' as he was getting drilled down below. David Rodela, who went three rounds with Pacquiao that day, told me later, "Man, I loaded up on everything I threw, it did nothing."
So does he dare to that with Hatton with 8-ounce gloves?
I thought referee Michael Ortega made the perfect call in stopping Froch-Taylor when he did. Taylor's hands came down and he looked defenseless on the ropes....I would love to see Allan Green get a shot at Froch. I still don't know about his chin, but he's a much more complete and dangerous offensive fighter than Taylor....I really like what the Philadelphia Eagles did on draft day....Those were some pretty quick fights on Friday Night Fights, huh?.... With Shannon Brown playing the way he is, Jordan Farmar is the Lakers version of Wally Pipp....Pretty good fight on TV Azteca this Friday night from the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas when welterweights Alfonso Gomez and Juan Buendia tangle. The main event features lightweight contender Urbano Antillon....Speaking of doing the right thing, I thought trainer Freddie Roach did the right thing in pulling the plug on Gerry Penalosa on Saturday night. Penalosa was game, but Juan Manuel Lopez was simply too big and strong for him....Mel Kiper's hair is amazing, isn't it?....I wouldn't mind seeing a rematch of either of the Showtime main events this past weekend....I have to admit, 'Blame it on the Alcohol' is growing on me. Of course, I might not have had a choice since I hear it every 15 minutes on the radio.....
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